North Branch or North Branch Potomac River Covered Bridge
WORLD GUIDE #
|Allegany & Mineral (WV)
||MD-01-04x & WV-29-01x
||North Branch Potomac River
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, in 1861, crossed from Maryland to West Virginia (Virginia until 1863) at Harpers Ferry and did not cross back again until it reached the North Branch of the Potomac River, south of the town of North Branch, Maryland.
Upon reaching the shores of Maryland, the railroad continued north crossing the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on its way to Cumberland. Both crossings were reported to be via wooden covered bridges based on reports in Portals, December 1965 edition, a magazine issued by the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania. Portals locates the bridge at North Branch, south of Cumberland, and describes it as four spans, 539 feet in length, built in 1838 and destroyed in 1851.
It is likely the bridge was not destroyed in 1851, or rebuilt after that date. In a book by Susan Cooke Soderberg, A Guide to Civil War Sites in Maryland, page 138:
The wooden railroad bridge at North Branch, a few miles east of Cumberland, was destroyed May 28, 1861, again on June 18, 1863, and still again in February 1864.
May 28, 1861 was the same day the Confederate Army destroyed the bridge over the canal just a short distance north of the North Branch Bridge.
Because there are still questions as to whether or not this bridge was a covered wooden bridge, we consider it as a "possible" covered bridge. In the C&O Canal Companion by Mike High, while writing about the North Branch Bridge: "This railroad trestle was built for the B&O Railroad, as it crossed back into Maryland for the first time since Harpers Ferry."
Most of the bridges built by the railroad were either trestle or uncovered through truss bridges. There were obvious exceptions, like the Harpers Ferry Bridge, but most of the covered railroad bridges were bridges that also accommodated foot passengers and wagon traffic. Weatherboarding and roofing bridges made for tempting marks for the enemies. For this reason, the early railroad bridges were intentionally built without a roof or siding.
Documentation of these railroad bridges has been very difficult, but we are still researching. Civil War Railroads by Geo. B. Abdill, details the reasons why the B&O preferred through truss bridges:
General Haupt's Construction Corps adapted the style of military truss bridge...for a number of important reasons. The structure could be used as either a deck bridge, with rails laid on the top of the bridge, or as through truss span, with the tracks running through the bridge. Perhaps the most important feature of the bridge was that it could be easily assembled to any length desired, and the job could be done by unskilled labor. The timbers were all alike and interchangeable, and could be reversed end for end and still fit together. The material could be cut far in advance of the time needed and stored until ready for use; the bridge needed no pre-construction, all parts being made so as to permit them to be assembled at the bridge site. Only saws and augers were needed by the crewmen, in addition to a set of block and tackle for hoisting the timbers into position.
Typical through truss railroad bridge. Photo courtesy National Archives.
||Typical trestle railroad bridge. Photo courtesy National Archives. |